Army Cracks Down on Tattoos
My latest for Defense One, “The Army’s Misguided Crackdown on Tattoos,” has posted.
Despite being in its thirteenth year of combat in Afghanistan and facing threats to its budget on the home front, the United States Army is focusing its energy on a more longstanding menace: soldiers whose appearance drives sergeants major crazy.
The vagaries of recruiting during wartime forced Uncle Sam to turn a blind eye to volunteers with tattoos covering their entire arms and neck. Male soldiers sporting Elvis-like sideburns and black soldiers with blonde eyebrows made senior NCOs shake their heads but were nonetheless allowed to go downrange to fight the Taliban. And let’s not even talk about what some of these individuals looked like off duty at the PX or back home on leave.
With the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan rapidly winding down, though, Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler is finally doing something about all that. A revised Army Regulation 670-1, the bible for uniform and grooming standards, is one signature away from going into effect. For the first time, violations will reportedly be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
While I share Chandler’s visceral reaction to extreme tattoos and unusual hair coloring, these new regulations are wrongheaded. There’s simply zero evidence that people sporting them make subpar soldiers or diminish their unit’s esprit de corps. (Obviously, gang symbols and racially offensive ink is a different story; but they’re already banned.)
Beyond that, it’s rather ludicrous to set an arbitrary peacetime standard for the appearance of soldiers, a profession that exists solely to fight America’s wars, that will go by the wayside when the shooting starts again. The Army should focus its dwindling resources on winning those future wars, not looking good in garrison.
More at the link.